Protecting personal information

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    By Ikwo Ibiam

    One day back in 1997, Fred Health, a former BYU student, went to Burger King for a light meal and in the process lost his credit card.

    The card was through Wells Fargo and they worked with him to resolve fraudulent charges. They reviewed his purchasing patterns instance by instance, and eventually the unauthorized purchase was identified – airplane tickets to Alaska.

    “At the time, I didn”t have Identity Theft protection on my card,” he said.

    As unfortunate as this instance was, it was not the issue that prompted Heath to get identity protection on his credit cards. The motivating experience came when he received an AT&T Worldcom collections notice in the mail. Evidently, someone had used one of his cards to make an online purchase. It took him three hours to call various customer service centers to uncover the problem.

    “Credit Card companies will work with you, but if you”re not in charge of your spending, it can get on top of you,” Heath said.

    Although identity theft is becoming increasingly common, there are several precautions that can minimize the chances of falling prey to this new age problem.

    Online at ftc.gov, many articles and tips are available to help protect the identities of consumers. A current article discourages consumers from using wire transfers to pay for purchases online. When making purchases from Internet auctions, the FTC says credit cards and online payment services are safer. The FTC”s new alert, “Going, Going, Gone: Using Wire Transfers for Internet Auction Purchases Can Be Risky” provides information about making purchases safely.

    “The things I tell students to do and the things I do personally are one and the same,” said Heath, now the manager of the Wells Fargo branch in the Wilkinson Center.

    Many financial institutions now have some sort of identity theft protection safeguards that are available for a monthly fee. These features among other things can monitor credit daily and alert the account holder of openings or inquiries into credit card files. They can also compile a personal credit report from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion for immediate review. Lastly, they also provide access to specialists to help recover stolen identities.

    “There is a friend of my family that had her identity stolen and it was very time consuming and expensive to get things back to normal,” Heath said. “It took nearly six months to get the situation corrected.”

    Just a few years ago the average American would need to do some research to find occurrences of identity theft. Now, this form of theft is far more common and disastrous in its effects.

    As computer technology is advancing the day-to-day life of almost everyone, criminals are also using this technology to perpetrate crimes they would never have been able to commit before.

    Joshua Mayer, a mechanical engineering major, follows a few specific rules to avoid having his identity stolen.

    “I never leave my wallet lying around and I never let anyone watch my things for me,” he said. “I keep my cards in my wallet instead of in my pocket and I always make sure I log out of my computer. You can”t do anything without ID so you have to keep track of it. We”re all just numbers in a computer.”

    Holly Skelton, who works with BYU”s College of Nursing, said she has been more alert to the current trend of

    identity theft because of an individual bearing the exact same name as her husband. Addressed to her husband, they received a car loan payment and a doctor”s bill that did not belong to them.

    “Everybody needs to be alert,” she said. “Don”t throw any bills away without shredding them first,” Skelton said.

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